The phrase "by operation of law" is a legal term that indicates that a right or liability has been created for a party, irrespective of the intent of that party, because it is dictated by existing legal principles. For example, if a person dies without a
Will may refer to:
* Will and testament, instructions for the disposition of one's property after death
* Will (philosophy), or willpower
* Will (sociology)
* Will, volition (psychology)
* Will, a modal verb - see Shall and will ...
, their heirs
are determined by operation of law. Similarly, if a person marries or has a child after their will has been written, the law writes this pretermitted spouse
or pretermitted heir
into the will if no provision for this situation was specifically included.
Adverse possession, sometimes colloquially described as "squatter's rights", is a legal principle in the Anglo-American common law under which a person who does not have legal title to a piece of property—usually land (real property)—may ...
, in which title to land passes because non-owners have occupied it for a certain period of time, is another important right that vests by operation of law.
[See ''West's Encyclopedia of America Law, edition 2'' (The Gale Group, Inc., 2008); John Bouvier, ''A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States'' (1856).]
Events that occur by operation of law do so because
A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes between parties and carry out the administration of justice in civil, criminal, and administrative matters in accord ...
s have determined over time that the rights thus created or transferred represent what the intent of the party would have been, had they thought about the situation in advance; or because the results fulfilled the settled expectations of parties with respect to their property; or because legal instruments of
A title is one or more words used before or after a person's name, in certain contexts. It may signify either generation, an official position, or a professional or academic qualification. In some languages, titles may be inserted between the f ...
provide for these transfers to occur automatically on certain named contingencies.
Rights that arise by operation of law often arise by design of certain contingencies set forth in a legal instrument. If a life estate
is created in a tract of land, and the person by whose life the estate is measured dies, title to the property reverts to the original grantor – or, possibly, to the grantor's legal heirs – by operation of law. Nothing needs to be put in writing to affirm that this will happen. Joint tenants
with rights of survivorship create a similar situation. Joint tenants with rights of survivorship deeds are always taken in equal shares, and when one joint tenant dies, the other tenants equally acquire title by virtue of the terms of the conveyance
itself, by operation of law.
Rights or liabilities created by operation of law can also be created involuntarily, because a contingency occurs for which a party has failed to plan (e.g. failure to write a will); or because a specific condition exists for a set period of time (e.g. adverse possession of property or creation of an
An easement is a nonpossessory right to use and/or enter onto the real property of another without possessing it. It is "best typified in the right of way which one landowner, A, may enjoy over the land of another, B". An easement is a property ...
; failure of a court to rule on a
In physics, motion is the phenomenon in which an object changes its position with respect to time. Motion is mathematically described in terms of displacement, distance, velocity, acceleration, speed and frame of reference to an observer and m ...
within a certain period automatically defeating the motion; failure of a party to act on a filed
In legal terminology, a complaint is any formal legal document that sets out the facts and legal reasons (see: cause of action) that the filing party or parties (the plaintiff(s)) believes are sufficient to support a claim against the party ...
within a certain time causing dismissal
of the case); or because an existing legal relationship is invalidated, but the parties to that relationship still require a mechanism to distribute their rights (e.g. under the
Uniform Commercial Code
The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), first published in 1952, is one of a number of Uniform Acts that have been established as law with the goal of harmonizing the laws of sales and other commercial transactions across the United States through UC ...
, where a
A contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more parties that creates, defines, and governs mutual rights and obligations between them. A contract typically involves the transfer of goods, services, money, or a promise to tr ...
for which both parties have performed partially is voided, the court will create a new contract based on the performance that has actually been rendered and containing reasonable terms to accommodate the expectations of the parties).
Because title to property that arises by operation of law is usually contingent upon proof of certain contingencies, and title records may not contain evidence of those contingencies, legal proceedings are sometimes required to turn title that arises by operation of law into marketable title
* Ipso jure
American legal terminology